Tainted sports administrator Lalit Bhanot's unopposed election to the post of Indian Olympic Association's secretary general today created a fresh controversy but the IOA justified its decision by saying that he has yet not been pronounced guilty by the court of law.
Bhanot, who spent nearly a year in jail last year in connection with the Commonwealth Games corruption case, was elected secretary general of the IOA along with Virendra Nanavati (senior vice-president) and N Ramachandran (treasurer) after the three-member IOA Election Commission, headed by Justice (retd) Anil Dev Singh, put up the final list of candidates.
Abhay Singh Chautala has also been elected unopposed as the president of the IOA after all the candidates contesting the key IOA posts withdrew from the elections.
Chautala's election as president had become clear last Sunday when his rival Randhir Singh withdrew his nomination for the post but the official declaration came after the deadline for withdrawal of nominations ended last evening.
Chautala, while defending the candidature of Bhanot, told mediapersons here that any person, until convicted by the court, was free to contest a election.
"In our country, there are several important figures against whom cases are registered. A lot of cases have been registered on political grounds against politicians like Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad Yadav, J Jayalalitha, Om Prakash Chautala, Prakash Singh Badal and many others. They are running the state governments of their respective states.
"The point I am trying to make here is that it's up to the court to decide whether a person is guilty or not. A person until convicted is free to contest. Bhanot has not been proven guilty as yet," said Chautala.
"One thing I would like to clarify in the case of Bhanot is that the IOC did not write any letter to the IOA directly. Jagdish Tytler had written a letter to the IOC asking whether Bhanot can contest the elections or not. The IOC replied to the letter addressing it to Tytler and not to the IOA", he said.
"The IOC's reply was forwarded by Tytler to everyone from his personal mail id. In this whole case, Bhanot did not receive any letter from the IOC but it was Tytler who had raised questions on his contesting the elections," Chautala said.
Bhanot, who was jailed along with former IOA president Suresh Kalmadi and VK Verma in connection with the CWG corruption scam, was elected unopposed despite serious objections from the International Olympic Committee.
The IOC Ethics Commission's recommendations stated that tainted officials like Bhanot cannot be part of the Olympic movement.
Bhanot, who spent 11 months in jail and later released on bail, was the only candidate in the fray after Volleyball Federation of India Secretary General K Murugan and Judo Federation of India General Secretary Mukesh Kumar decided to withdraw their candidature.
The IOA may have elected its new office bearers, but the threat of them being banned by the IOC still exists. The IOC had said it will propose the suspension of the IOA at its executive board meeting on December4-5 in Lausanne if its elections were held under the Sports Ministry's code.
Meanwhile, an official associated with Bhanot's camp, today justified his election to the post of secretary general, stating that the matter is sub judice.
"Everyone favoured his candidature as he is still not convicted of any charges. He is not a convicted person as the charges against him have not been proved. He will resign from the post if proven guilty by the court. He has always helped in the upliftment of sports. He has been wrongly projected as a tainted person in the media," he said.
Bhanot's election came in for sharp criticism from Randhir Singh, who withdrew his nomination for the post of president in view of the code dispute, and former Indian Hockey Federation chief K P S Gill.
"They have defied the IOC's guidelines. Tainted officials like Bhanot should not have contested, but they are just interested in occupying posts", Randhir said.
"I don't know why an IOA delegation is going to Lausanne at all. They have already declared themselves elected. The IOC wanted the elections to be held under the Olympic Charter. What is there to talk now ?", Randhir remarked.
"I don't know why (IOA Acting President) V K Malhotra has allowed himself to come under pressure. He should have asserted himself and cleared the mess. He will now be responsible for whatever decision IOC takes. It will be a real shame is IOA is suspended", he said.
K P S Gill said that the IOA must clean itself up first and all other problems could be resolved later.
"IOA must clean itself first. Everything else comes later. All sorts of unsavoury characters are there in IOA, you can't make any progress because of such persons", he said.
Gill, who is now the IHF patron, was also critical of the two IOA delagates who will go to Lausanne to discuss the issue with IOC officials.
"These people have no record of doing anything for the promotion of sports. They have have violated guidelines for their own interest in the past. They don't have the credibility", he said referring to the two members Narinder Batra and R K Anand.